Harry had suffered more than a few rude awakenings in his career, so opening his eyes to find himself stretched out on a low-pile carpet that smelled mildly of rug shampoo was no big thing.
Then someone’s foot slammed into his gut, seriously upping the rude quotient of this particular awakening.
“That will be enough,” someone said.
A female someone.
A female someone of the “brooks-no-nonsense” variety.
“It will be enough when he’s dead,” a male voice, familiar and pissed, snapped.
León. Harry’s memory filled in the blanks. The same León he’d tracked into Ankhar.
“That is not for you to decide,” Ms. No-Nonsense replied.
There was a beat, followed by the sound of footsteps receding over carpet.
By now Harry’s vision had cleared enough to see that the carpet was gray, and that there were some table and chair legs sitting on it.
He also spied a pair of black-clad legs in a pair of matching, low-heeled boots.
The legs bent, and a fair, sharply carved face peered into his.
“There is a chair,” the woman said, dark eyes cool under a cropped silver cap of hair. “Do you need assistance getting to it?”
“I’ll manage,” he said, in part because it was true and in part because the woman’s tone made it clear there was serious street cred on the line here.
He took in one long breath and, on the exhalation, rolled to standing. He then settled quickly into the offered chair and leaned his arms on a table that also held a palm comp.
His gaze slid over the two-way mirror opposite the man standing in front of the room’s only door. “León,” he said by way of greeting.
“Victor.” León’s reply was barely more than a hiss.
“Yes, we all know I’m not the real Victor,” Harry said. “Then again, you weren’t playing it entirely straight, either.”
“How we do business on Ócala is none of yours, cabrón.”
“No need to call names.”
“You traced me, you son of a bitch!”
Harry glanced to where the woman now stood, watching the byplay.
Both her expression and her position told him there was someone else watching from the other side of the two-way.
“True.” Harry turned back to León. “I did. Which is why I bothered to make sure you got out of the burning bar before you became a León kabob. So, you’re welcome.”
León’s scowl went to eleven. “You—”
The woman cut León off with the flick of a finger, then turned to Harry. “Our security detected an isotonic tracer in Mr. Enris’s system when he entered the Jade Room,” she said to Harry. “As you might imagine, this caused some distress to the management, as it is a breach of protocol—a breach that can lead to termination.”
Harry got the impression she wasn’t talking about a pink slip.
“However,” she continued, “Mr. Enris swears he is innocent of any wrongdoing.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s done more than his share of wrong,” Harry commented.
“Against management,” she clarified and glanced toward the mirror, to which she gave the slightest of nods before smoothly drawing her sidearm, a sassy little Walther.
Harry thought it nice to see Sol System goods making it out of the ConFed.
Then she pointed the gun at León, surprising both men.
“Wait.” León held up a hand.
The woman looked at Harry but kept the gun on León, “My superior wants to know if Mr. Enris is telling the truth regarding the tracer?”
“Yes,” Harry replied, meeting her gaze. “León was nothing but a patsy.”
That had Leon’s face flushing, but he was smart enough not to say anything.
Still, the woman’s finger tightened on the trigger.
“I needed an in with the Black Rose,” Harry said quickly. “León was the first soldier who crossed my path. He didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and I’m confident he’d have stuck a knife in me if he had.”
She said nothing, but a sudden stab of a headache blurred Harry’s vision.
“I am telling the truth,” he said, blinking past the pain. “As far as I know, León is a loyal soldier.”
“Very well,” she said. Then she lowered her aim and fired.
León let out a howl of pain and dropped to the carpet, hands pressed to the hole in his thigh.
The woman slid her gun back under her jacket.
The door opened, and two men in suits entered to drag the whimpering León out.
“You may sit down,” the woman told Harry.
Was he standing?
Harry looked down.
Yes. Yes, he was.
“Okay.” He sat, looked at the mirror, then at the woman. “Why did you shoot him?”
“Mr. Enris, while loyal, was careless and indiscreet. Hopefully he will take tonight’s lesson to heart and do better in the future. Meanwhile I’d like to discuss your intentions.” She pulled out the chair opposite Harry and activated the palm comp’s holo feature.
Harry eased back in the chair, resisting the urge to press at the spot above his right eye, which felt as if someone were pounding a spike into his skull. “Like I told your man, Sims, I’m here on vacation.”
“Sims Al-Kar is not mine,” she said dismissively. “And,” she added, pulling up a screen on the holo, “even a cursory glance at your ISM jacket indicates that you are not generally inclined to vacations. At least, not voluntarily.”
Harry gave the screen a glance—even backwards, he could make out the stamp of the Inter-System Marshal Service glowing in the corner. “Those records would be classified.”
“I’m sure someone thought so.” She flipped to the next screen, revealing one with the black-and-silver tab of Confederation Fleet Intelligence, which were supposed to be several degrees beyond classified. “By the way,” she added, flipping past that to a screen bearing the sigil of the Judon Kaish-Ta, “were you aware the Judon Inquisitors keep records of all of their prisoners?”
This time Harry had trouble finding his voice, so he simply shook his head.
“They have a detailed account here, of a haij Colonel named Harry Finn, who led six Allied officers, including one Ensign Seth Aliombe, in an unprecedented escape from the Kelmno prison station.”
Since Harry continued to hold his tongue, she flipped the holo back to the original ISM files. “You have quite the arrest record,” she noted. “One that only improved after Ensign Seth Aliombe joined ISM and became your partner. Interesting the two of you would work together again, after the war.”
The spike above Harry’s eye was drilling deep. “Is there a point to all this?” he asked, pressing the heel of his hand into the point of excavation.
“My superior is curious about you,” he heard the woman say, as if from a great distance.
“Maybe your superior would like to come in here and talk to me,” he suggested, forcing himself to look up. “Or are you comfortable being a mouthpiece, Ms. . . .”
“Captain,” she corrected. “Captain Eineen Marifanne, of House Szado.”
“Fair enough,” Harry said, all the while trying to ignore the spike in his head. “So—now that you know I tagged León, what do you want?”
Captain Marifanne studied him, coolly. “Now we want to know why.”
At which point the spike in Harry’s skull twisted, then stretched into a swirling of chute of pain down which he had no choice but to slide down . . . down and back . . . to a place he would have preferred to never see again.
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